Italian rice salad (Insalata di Riso), with its fresh and light taste, its colors, and the thousands of flavors that come together in the dish, is one of the most beloved recipes made during summer.
Rice salad in Italy is the cold dish King of summer because it’s a fresh and tasty recipe.
Traditionally, we make rice salad with one part of mixed vegetables, one part of cheese, one part of ham and/or tuna in oil, sweet corn and hard-boiled eggs. Finally, we season it with a little vinegar or lemon juice and some excellent extra virgin olive oil.
Of course, you can prepare this Italian rice salad with the ingredients you prefer, but trying to respect the proportion between rice, vegetables and protein (cold cuts, cheese, eggs), so that it’s really a single, complete and nutritious dish.
Rice salad is a fresh dish that can be prepared well in advance and is perfect for picnics, lunches at the beach, lunch breaks at work, and buffet lunches and dinners.
Italian rice salad is a fresh and light recipe because it’s made with simple, fresh and wholesome ingredients.
Therefore, avoid using packaged rice salad dressings that not only contain a lot of fat and preservatives, but also take away the pleasure of choosing your favorite ingredients. In fact, you can customize rice salad in a thousand ways and create a new and original recipe every time!
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How to Make Italian Rice Salad: Ingredients
- Prep Time: 20 Min
- Cook Time: 12 Min
- Servings: 6
- 350 g (1 3/4 cup) of Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- 120 g (4 oz) of tuna in oil
- 150 g (5,3 0z) of peas (fresh or frozen)
- 150 g (5,3 oz) of canned sweet corn
- 2 to 3 medium carrots
- about 20/25 pitted green and black olives
- 150 g (5,3 oz) of cherry tomatoes
- 150 g (5,3, oz) of cheese (such as Asiago, Caciocavallo or Fontina)
- 100 g (3,5 oz) of diced ham
- 3 medium eggs
- 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil
- 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
Step 1) – To prepare Italian rice salad, first put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Finally boil the rice.
Drain it when al dente, about two minutes less than the time indicated on the package (usually 14/15 minutes). The grain inside should still be slightly hard.
As soon as it’s drained, put it in a cold bowl.
Step 2) – Add two tablespoons of vinegar and three tablespoons of oil and stir. Set aside and allow to cool. You can also put it in the refrigerator a few hours to make it easier for the rice to cool. Stir occasionally.
Start Preparing Rice Salad Ingredients
Step 3) – Now start preparing all the ingredients that go into your Italian rice salad:
- Boil the peas for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
- Boil the eggs for about 10 minutes as well. Peel them and let them cool.
- Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half or 4 depending on size and set aside.
- Cut the pitted olives into rounds.
- Peel the carrots and cut them into cubes.
- Cut the cheese and ham into cubes as well.
- Drain the tuna from the oil and the corn from the water.
Now you have all the ingredients ready to assemble and dress this amazing rice salad.
Step 4) – Take a large bowl and start putting the ingredients in a little at a time, not all at once. Alternate with a few spoonfuls of cooled rice. This is to mix all the ingredients more smoothly and evenly.
Put in the peas and carrots and some of the rice. Then the tomatoes, olives and other ingredients and some more rice. Until you run out of both rice and ingredients.
Step 5) – Mix everything together and finally add another round of oil and more vinegar if to your liking. Add the hard-boiled eggs cut into wedges on top of the salad.
Italian rice salad is ready! Tasty, fresh and nutritious for your summer lunches!
You can keep Italian rice salad in the refrigerator for up to 2/3 days in an airtight container. We do not recommend freezing.
Italian Rice Salad: How to Cook Rice in the Best Way
Fresh, colorful and full of flavor, rice salad is one of the must-have dishes of summer. It’s perfect for all occasions, from backyard parties to a day at the beach, not forgetting picnics and appetizers with friends.
However, having the right combination of ingredients and optimal cooking, not letting the rice stick or draining it either too al dente or overcooked, are all challenges that can become difficult even for the most trained cook.
So here are some tips and tricks on how to cook rice for Italian rice salad.
How to Choose the Right Rice for Rice Salad
The best rice for rice salads is the one that can maintain good cooking while leaving the grains well shelled and separated.
For this reason, the most commonly used rice for rice salads is parboiled rice, also known as rice that doesn’t shake.
“Parboiling” is a hydrothermal process that makes rice more resistant to cooking. Parboiled rice is easily recognized by the yellowish color it takes on during parboiling.
It’s true that the grains are well separated and never sticky, because parboiled rice no longer releases starch. However, it loses many properties, such as fragrance and flavor. In addition, parboiling makes the rice a bit chewy.
We recommend to choose a quality rice with a coarse grain that holds up well to cooking. Carnaroli rice or Arborio rice are perfect for this type of recipe. If you want to prepare a flavorful rice salad with an oriental style, Basmati rice is very good.
Of course, to get the grains well separated and avoid the glue effect, the cooking time of rice and cooling method are very important.
How to Properly Boil and Cool the Rice
A correct boiling of rice requires a lot of water. Calculate about 1/2 liter (2 1/2 cups) of water per 100 g (1/2 cup) of rice.
If there is too little water, you risk the rice absorbing it and resulting in a risotto effect.
For the rice to be al dente, remove the pot from the heat and drain two minutes before the cooking time indicated on the package. In the center, the grain should be a little hard.
After draining the rice when it’s al dente, you should let it cool, but also take care that the grains do not stick together.
Many people, also to make it faster, run the drained rice under cold water. This is very wrong. In fact, doing so removes starch and flavor.
After draining the rice, put it in a very cold container.
Then season it with a little vinegar and a little extra virgin olive oil. The vinegar helps lower the temperature faster and the oil keeps the grains separate.
From time to time, stir and let it cool completely in a cool place while you prepare the other ingredients.
We recommend using apple cider vinegar because it’s very light and does not cover up the other flavors. However, if you like the taste of vinegar, you can also use a stronger vinegar.
Seasoning Italian Rice Salad Ingredients: Some Tips
As we mentioned in the introduction, Italian Rice Salad should be a complete one-pot meal.
That is why the classic recipe we have shown you includes one part vegetables, one part protein (cold cuts, cheese, eggs, tuna) and one part grains consisting of corn and of course rice.
We recommend that you choose fresh raw vegetables that give freshness and crispness to the dish. Carrots, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Celery, Peppers are just examples.
Then you can also add to the fresh vegetables some pickled vegetables to give a little more flavor but without overdoing it (e.g. Olives, Capers, Mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes).
As for cheese, we recommend that you use one that is hard and quite tasty. Caciocavallo, Asiago or Fontina cheese will be fine for example.
We do not recommend the use of Mozzarella as it can release water into the salad .
Diced cooked ham is the most commonly used and best suited for this recipe. You can also use diced chicken breast or turkey breast. Or, if you like fish, you can use shrimp.
Tuna in oil is a classic ingredient in rice salad. Of course use it according to your taste.
We recommend not mixing the hard-boiled eggs with the rest of the dressing but lay them on top of the salad in wedges or halves. This is because if someone does not like eggs they can easily avoid them. And also for decorative reasons.
In addition to rice, which is obviously the king of this dish, we have added corn, which gives color and flavor and makes the dish more balanced. You can of course replace it with Quinoa or Spelt or Barley or omit it completely.
But even in terms of the type of rice you can make variations and make a more original rice salad. For example, you can use Venere black rice or Red rice. Obviously for each type of rice adapt the cooking time, but always al dente mind you!
Endless, as you can imagine, are the variations you can make to Italian rice salad according to your tastes and invent a new recipe every time.
Vegan Italian Rice Salad
If you wish to make a rice salad free of animal ingredients, you can add about 300 g (about 10 oz) of other legumes in addition to the peas already present. Such as, for example, chickpeas and cannellini beans.
Legumes, in fact, are rich in protein and are an excellent substitute, nutritionally speaking, for eggs, meat, fish and cheeses.